Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Another Mega...

If you had read my previous blog you will know I have been on the hunt for Pine Grosbeaks (a true bird of the North) as quite a few have been seen around Rovaniemi now as the weather becomes a lot harsher and drives the birds into the city to feast on Rowan berries just like the Waxwings.

So far I hadn't had much luck and this was one of the top 5 birds I wanted to see here and would have been a bit disappointed if I had gone home without seeing at least one.

Fast forward to this morning (31/10) and getting ready to leave for one of my classes around 9.30am and there right outside not 20 metres away in one of the Rowan trees that had attracted so many Waxwings over the last week were, not one, but 5 Pine Grosbeaks including one stunning red male! Superb! The only shame was that I only had 5 mins to get a few pictures before leaving. The birds were pretty bold allowing me to walk within just a few feet without being bothered at all.

I got home pretty late when it was almost dark so they weren't there when I got back but, fingers crossed, some more might show up because there are still plenty of berries outside.

Finnish Bird List additions:
48. Pine Grosbeak

Stunning male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

More Winter Birding...

Hasn't stopped snowing for the last 3 days but it has become a lot milder with the temperature floating about between minus 4 and plus 1.

Yesterday (30/10) in the afternoon the forestry exchange students were invited along with the Finnish forestry students to the Pilke Science Centre. This centre is also the head office for the goverment owned forestry and natural resource agency Metsähallitus.

The building itself is close to the Arktikum, the arctic museum and education centre here in Rovaniemi but more importantly is the Arktikum gardens which is one of the more productive areas for birding and the previous day 30 Pine Grosbeaks had been seen there. So after the Pilke Science Centre it was a good chance to check the area only just across the road even though it was quite windy, snowing and getting dark already but you have to be in it to win it! 

Three of us cycled around to the garden and had a look around but it was very quiet. We hung around for maybe half an hour and decided to leave. Just as we were about to leave a flock of about 20 noisy birds landed at the top of some birch trees. They were Common Redpolls, a life tick for me actually so I was pleased. I scanned them all as closely as I could in the poor light but couldn't find any Arctic Redpolls unfortunately.

Common of Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
 As I was watchign the Redpolls I turned to my girlfriend and said "still would love to see some Long-tailed Tits" and not 30 seconds later she spotted some. Had really wanted to see a "Northern" Long-tailed Tit whilst I was here, mission accomplished! There were about 15 in total. Couple of nice species to see without much effort at all. For those of you who don't know, Northern Long-Tailed Tits differ from those throughout central Europe and the UK. The Northern race have completely white heads and look like cotton balls with long tails when flitting about in the trees.

Northern Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus)

Finnish Bird List additions:
46. Common Redpoll (Lifer)
47. Long-tailed Tit (Northern Race)

Friday, 26 October 2012

Waxwings everywhere...

It's been quite awhile since I last posted, almost 3 weeks actually. I wouldn't say a lot of exciting things have happened more that I have been very busy with coursework and the weather had been pretty miserable up until 10 days ago.

Not a whole lot to report on the birding front but a few exciting things to note (for me anyway).

Last weekend us UK forestry exchange students, Czech students and Suvi our Finnish friend went to one of the many free cabins in the forest about 30km South of Rovaniemi. There had been the first snow a couple days before and even most of it had melted in the city there was still a fair bit left on the ground where we were going and it was starting to get nice and frosty. It was a great night with -4c outside and some (not me) seeing faint Northern Lights from the fire tower near to the cabin. I did get to see a lone Siberian Jay again which is always nice. On the way back to Rovaniemi two of the people in our car apparently saw a Golden Eagle but I didn't even manage to catch a glimpse of it.

View from the fire tower
Fire Tower
Looking down on the cabin.
At the start of the week Waxwing numbers were really starting to build up in the city with 1200 seen in the city centre on Wednesday. Outside the student accomodation here in Kuntotie there is a small courtyard area which has a few Scots Pine, Norway Spruce and most importantly plenty of Rowan trees loaded with berried. Unfortunately the one outside my balcony is pretty bare (probably because it doesn't get much sun) but there are plenty others close enough. I didn't think it would be long before they started trickling in and they did maybe 10 at first but by the end of this week there were up to 120. I did attempt some photos but they weren't great with it being very overcast and most of the birds feeding at the top of the trees.

I also started to put some food out on the tree outside. Some fatballs to start off with then some half coconut shells with a fat mix inside. Plenty of Great Tits visiting and one Blue Tit so far but some cheap entertainment at the kitchen table. They are so close only really possible to take photos through the window.

The last 3 days there has been plenty of Waxwings flying to and from the conifers to the Rowan trees all day. Amazing to watch and listen to them all "trilling" up in the trees. Was looking forward to seeing them in Finland but never imagined I would have so many less than 10 metres from my backdoor.

Today (26/10) it has been the coldest so far with -12c at 9 o'clock this morning and -15c recorded last night. It was a beautiful day though and the sun was out. I decided to go out for a walk up to part of Ounasvaara hill called Isorakka. It was fairly quiet as to be expected but you gotta be in it to win it. I didn't see much for a good couple hours but when I got into the forest properly I did see a few things. A clearing in the forest had quite a bit of activity with 4 Waxwings, 2 Willow Tit, 5-6 Great Tit, Blue Tit and 3 Bullfinch (a new species for the Finnish list). I enjoyed walking up to the top of the hill and having a look around but there wasn't much else of interest seen. On the way back home there were plenty of Waxwings in the roadside Birches in small but frequent groups.

When I made it back to the accomodation I noticed that the Waxwings had moved to the lower branchs of one tree where there were still berries left and the light was really good so I attempted some photos and got some ok ones I think, some below.

Finnish Bird List additions:
45. Bullfinch

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Elk Hunt...

Yesterday (06/10) I participated in a local elk hunt which had been arranged by the University here. It was an invite for all the exchange students studying forestry from a local forestry company to go along and see something new and act as beaters in a driven shoot.

Early start at 6:00am and we were picked up at our student accomodation. Surprisingly there aren't many forestry exchange students studying here so it was us three from the UK and 6 Czechs who we had already spent quite a bit of time with.

No time for breakfast but it didn't matter because it was being provided for free at the hunting cabin in the woods. A nice big fire was already on the go and we met a few of the people running the shoot. Not long after breakfast the guests started to arrive with their expensive cars, expensive outdoor clothing and big guts, the usual sort.

After a briefing on the plan for the day we set off in the cars to the first location for the shoot dressed in our red caps and vests. The shooters made their way around to the other side whilst we beaters headed off to our position to create a chain of people through the forest which would drive the elk towards the shooters. We were provided with two wooden batons to create as much noise as we could whilst walking.

The horn blew three times and we were off, walking slowly, shouting, clacking our sticks and trying to keep equal distance between the person in the chain either side who was 150 - 200 metres away. After awhile due to the terrain it was impossible to see the person either side of you but I kept going through dense forest and swamp when all of a sudden I saw movement, a young male elk not 20 metres in front. We paused for a few seconds looking at each other and then he ran off towards the right with me wondering if he would still be alive in a few minutes time. I got to the end of my beat at a long clearing in the forest where a powerline ran through. Several others also made it but the chain had become a bit confused and some people weren't there yet. The few of us who were stood in a safe location and waited to see what happened, it was deadly quiet.

We stood there in the rain and cold for a good 10 minutes waiting for instructions and wondered where the others were when all of a sudden BANG! A shot rang out that must have been heard for miles and all of a sudden it became real and there were 5 more shots shortly after that. We all looked at each other wondering what had happened.

We got the order to move, down to the shooter's position to meet up with the others. The word was a large bull elk and a calf had been shot but it wasn't clean so they needed help finding them. Eventually we made it back to the road and the others who were all safe and accounted for. Turned out this group of shooters were useless and no-one had actually hit anything at all even though we had driven 3 elks out in front of them. A small part of me was disappointed after all our efforts but a large part of me was glad that these 3 elk would live another day at least.

We returned, soaking wet to the cabin for a free lunch and to dry off a bit around the fire. After eating we got ready for another shoot at a different location. Same procedure again but this time the gaps in the chain were smaller which made it easier. Walking through the forest clacking my sticks and I saw an interesting looking bird through the trees, it flew off before I could get a proper look but as I continued through the forest I saw it again with another one this time, it was two Hazel Grouse! So the day had suddenly become all worth it. The second shoot yielded nothing aswell, there weren't even any elk this time. But we finished up and headed back to the cabin again where we were presented with a gift for our efforts from the forest company. It was a very nice pocket torch, plus we got to keep the vests and hats as a little souvenir.

Finnish Bird List additions:
44. Hazel Grouse

Free stuff.

Hopeless Hoopoe...

According to Tiira, Birdlife Finland's bird observation system there had been a Hoopoe spotted in the South East area of the City of Rovaniemi at the start of last week and it had been regularly spotted all the way up to Friday morning (05/10). So having not been out properly in awhile due to other commitments I decided to go out on Friday and look for the Hoopoe, definately not a bird I expected to be seeing in Northern Finland in October.

The bird had been hanging around the Vennivaara neighbourhood in the Kylväjäntie-Villapolku area apparently which didn't mean much to be but I checked some maps and asked some people who already seen it and set off on my bike. The area is not too far from Jängislahti which I have talked about in previous blogs so I set off rather optimistic.

The weather for the last 3 weeks has been fairly miserable with lots of rain and combined with being busy with University it's been fairly quiet on the birding front so it was nice to be out, even though it was still raining.

I headed off to the Vennivaara area which I found fairly easy (seeing 2 Common Gulls and plenty of Fieldfare on the way) and I was told it had been hanging around people's back gardens and the park areas. So this is where I looked.....for nearly two hours! And surprise surprise I didn't see anything apart from a few Hooded Crows, Magpies and Great Tits. So by now I was pretty wet and getting cold and decided to give up. I took an alternative way back though through the residential area instead of going back to the main road and I am glad that I did.

I was cycling along one of the paths between the houses which always have plenty of trees either side when I noticed some movement up at the top of some pine trees. I stopped to have a look and it was 3 Redwings but there was something else up there too. Then 6 birds flew out of the canopy down to some rowan trees packed with berries in the garden below and to my delight they were Waxwings. A new bird for me that I have always seemed to have missed back in the UK when we get an influx. They were very close too, sometimes down to just a few feet. I watched them for 30mins and tried to get some photos, 14 in total I counted. As I was walking around this small path I noticed a lot of activity maybe 100 metres down the road at another back garden.

I walked down to the garden and it was alive with activity. There was only a small feeder with some peanuts but there were c20 Greenfinch, 4 Willow Tit, 2 fighting Red Squirrels and more Waxwings eating rowan berries all around me. It definately cheered me up after dipping on the Hoopoe and with the weather. Then sometime flew very close to my head and landed on the trunk of a tree 4 feet away. It was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a bird I had never seen that close or well and it hung around too so I managed some photos of that as well. In the trees beside the garden there were 2 Treecreepers also so some nice additions to my Finnish List. Some pictures below.

Finnish Bird List additions:
40. Common Gull
41. Waxwing (Bohemian)
42. Great Spotted Woodpecker
43. Treecreeper

On the 27th September I also attended a presentation at the Artikum here in Rovaniemi for the publication of the new Rovaniemi Breeding Bird Atlas. Unfortunately the presentation was mostly in Finnish (no surprises) but some of the more important points were given in English also. But at the end there was a table with several copies of the atlas (a really top quality publication) and when I asked how much they were I was greeted with the answer "Just take one, they are free". To say I was surprised was an understatement but took one I did and some leaflets of birding sites in English.